Earlier this year, we had a series of posts reviewing John H. Armstrong’s fine book, Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church. John writes a heartfelt, winsome appeal for Christian unity, based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17. You can read or review those posts here:
One of the chapters in YCITS asks the question, “What Place Should We Give to Tradition?” As Robert Webber has said, the question is never whether or not we should believe in tradition, but rather which tradition we will believe in. We ALL believe in and have our own traditions. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with disgruntled parishioners because I didn’t include an altar call at the end of the Sunday morning service, changed the order of that service somehow, or didn’t follow one or another of a group of expectations they had about how a church or pastor should function. What were their complaints based upon?
This was always particularly interesting to me, since my pastoral work was done in churches that supposedly based everything they did on the Bible.
John Armstrong reminds us that Christians also have a Tradition with a capital “T”.
Just as a person or family has a history and memory, so does the body of Christ. Tradition is nothing more or less than the means by which we understand this memory. This is how we know who we are as God’s people. The New Testament itself came about through three centuries of life, reflection, and discussion. (p. 129f)
Sadly, he observes that modern evangelicalism, a movement whose traditions go back only about 200 years, has had an extremely negative view of this Tradition.
Much of the modern evangelical movement has been built on schismâ€”a schism rooted in an antitradition perspective. We thought this was the best way for a church to remain faithful. A simple study of early church history would divest us of this idea. I am convinced that as long as we remain opposed to Christian tradition, we will never solve this problem. We will keep building churches on the foundation of strong human personalities and then follow these leaders, much as the Corinthians did with various teachers in their context… (p. 131)
In the following video clip, John Armstrong talks about Tradition with a capital “T” and encourages us to adjust our perception of its value to our future as Christ’s church. “If we don’t have love for the past, we will make mistakesâ€”not only that have been madeâ€”but we will learn none of the good things we can learn from the Tradition.”